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How do I know if I’m failing?

Failure can feel subjective. What one person considers failure, another may view as a learning opportunity or a chance to grow. How can you objectively assess if you are failing in your personal or professional life? There are a few key signs that indicate you may be falling short of your goals and expectations. Being aware of these signs can help you course correct before failure becomes unavoidable.

Falling Short of Expectations

The most straightforward way to know if you are failing is by looking at expectations. Are there clear goals or standards you are expected to meet but are not achieving? This could be expectations set by your employer, teacher, parents, or even yourself. For example:

– Consistently missing sales targets at work
– Scoring below average on exams or assignments in school
– Not meeting weight loss goals you set for yourself
– Letting down people who are counting on you

When you are consistently unable to meet expectations that have clearly been outlined, it’s a sign that something needs to change. If these expectations seem unreasonable, then open communication to adjust them may be warranted. But if they seem fair and achievable, then failure to meet them indicates an issue that needs addressing.

Lagging Behind Peers

Another way to gauge failure is by comparing yourself to peers. If you are significantly lagging behind your coworkers, classmates, or competitors in measurable ways, it indicates you may be failing to reach your potential. Some examples include:

– Having drastically lower sales numbers than your colleagues
– Having a lower GPA than most students in your class and school
– Being surpassed by competitors in your industry

Of course, some lag is normal. Not everyone can be #1. But if you are noticeably behind your peers across the board, it’s a red flag that you are falling short of benchmarks that those similar to you are hitting.

Feeling Unable to Progress

Failure can also manifest as a feeling of stagnation or inability to progress. When you feel stuck in the same place for an extended period of time and are unable to advance in skills, responsibilities, or accomplishments, it indicates you may be failing to achieve growth and forward momentum.

– Staying in the same low-level job for years without promotion
– Being unable to improve your grades or increase your learning over time
– Being unable to add to your skillset or achieve new milestones

Plateauing happens occasionally to everyone. But if the feeling persists for months or years, it likely means you are failing to reach your potential or make desired progress.

Self-Defeating Thoughts and Behaviors

Sometimes the clearest indication of failure is in our own thoughts and behaviors. Do you regularly think or act in ways that undermine your own success and well-being? Some examples include:

– Having excessive anxiety or self-doubt about your abilities or performance
– Consistently prioritizing short-term pleasure over long-term goals
– Blaming outside factors for setbacks rather than taking responsibility
– Avoiding risks needed to achieve greater success

These ways of thinking and behaving reflect a failure to believe in yourself or do what’s needed to accomplish your goals. If left unaddressed, they become a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Measuring Against Your Own Potential

The most accurate way to assess failure is by measuring yourself against your own potential. Are you reaching your full capabilities mentally, physically, emotionally, and skill-wise? Are you utilizing your talents and opportunities to achieve excellence by your own standards?

This requires honest self-evaluation. It means acknowledging weaknesses and unfulfilled potential within yourself – the gap between what you could become and what you are today. This gap represents failure to maximize your abilities.

Common Reasons for Failure

If you see signs you are failing in your responsibilities, growth, or potential, examine why. Common reasons for failure include:

Lack of Clear Goals

Without clearly defined goals and plans, it’s nearly impossible to succeed. Failing to set clear goals and benchmarks leads to unfocused efforts and inconsistent results. Evaluate if unclear goals may be contributing to failure.

Inadequate Skills/Preparation

Another major cause of failure is simply lacking skills or preparation needed to succeed. This could involve gaps in knowledge, training, experience, or needed capabilities. Identify if inadequate skills are limiting your success.


It’s hard to succeed if you’re distracted or overcommitted. Constant distractions like social media and messaging can reduce productivity. Having too many responsibilities can also split focus. Analyze if distraction or lack of focus may be impacting your progress.

Poor Time Management

Failing to manage time effectively can severely limit your ability to complete tasks and achieve goals. Look at if poor time management habits like procrastination or disorganization may be holding you back.

Personal Problems

Issues in your personal life can negatively impact performance. Think about how problems like mental health struggles, family conflicts, loneliness, or substance abuse may be factors in your failures.

Fear of Failure

Ironically, fear of failure itself can lead to failure. Anxiety causes avoidance, self-sabotage, and poor decisions. Examine if an excessive fear of failure may be contributing.

Reason for Failure How to Improve
Lack of Clear Goals Define specific, measurable goals with timeline
Inadequate Skills/Preparation Identify gaps and pursue training/education
Distractions Minimize distractions and prioritize focus
Poor Time Management Optimize schedule, remove time wasters
Personal Problems Address root causes through counseling or life changes
Fear of Failure Shift mindset, take risks, don’t avoid failure

Turning Failure into Success

The good news is failure doesn’t have to be permanent. It can be a learning opportunity and source of growth. Here are tips for turning failure into success:

Have an Open, Growth Mindset

View failure as feedback for improvement, not a permanent label. Believe you can develop yourself continually.

Analyze the Root Causes

Carefully analyze the factors contributing to failure. Identify problems like lack of preparation, distractions, poor time management.

Make Changes

Use your analysis to make strategic changes. Shore up knowledge gaps. Eliminate distractions and bad habits. Optimize schedule and focus.

Break Goals Into Steps

Break large goals down into smaller action steps with deadlines. This creates momentum and helps you track progress.

Invest in Your Abilities

Commit to developing your skills and expanding your capabilities through training, education, mentoring.

Persist Through Obstacles

View obstacles as opportunities to problem solve and develop grit. Don’t allow setbacks to derail your efforts.

When to Seek Help

Sometimes failures require outside intervention to overcome. Seek assistance if you’ve repeatedly tried to meet goals or expectations but consistently fallen short. Help could involve:

– A career coach to improve job performance
– A tutor to help improve grades
– A therapist to address mental health or motivational issues
– A support group to overcome addictions or self-defeating patterns

Asking for help is not a weakness but a strategy to gain strength and abilities you lack. It allows you to draw on resources beyond yourself.


Failure is unavoidable and often essential for growth. The key is honestly assessing when you are falling short so problems can be addressed. By examining your shortcomings compared to expectations, peers, and your own potential, failure can be identified and its causes understood. Adjustments involving improved skills, greater focus, and better strategies can then convert failure into future success. With an openness to grow through setbacks, failure becomes an opportunity for achievement.